How British Labour Party Works

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By K. Jagat Singh, London – 4 July 1957

While six influential leaders of the Labour Party have been saddled with ministerial jobs, they will have little time left to think of their Party machine. The Party now needs rehauling so that it will be able to meet the exigencies of the time and the onslaught of opposition. The British Labour Party provides us with a fine example. Let us hope that the local LP will follow in its footsteps.British Labour Party Annual Conference – 1906. Photo –

Whatever our misgivings about the present political developments may be, it cannot be denied that Mauritius is now well on its way to self-government. The nearer Mauritius advances towards this goal the clearer it becomes that the political parties will be called to play a decisive role in our affairs; in other words, party politics which was threatened by unlamented PR has come to stay and henceforth our destiny will rest with our political parties. But to what stage of development have our political parties reached? But to what stage of development have our political parties reached? We may perhaps find an answer to this by taking a look at one of the political parties of Britain and, for obvious reasons, I have selected the British Labour Party.

“A first class political machine is as vital to the politicians as the perfect tool is to the craftsman,” Miss Sarah Barker, Assistant National Agent of the Labour Party, told me when I met her some time ago at Transport House and to buttress her contention she went on to explain how a well-organised party ensures that the ideals of the party percolate down to the rank and file thus building a solid and intelligent following. Since its inception till 1918 the Labour Party had no individual membership and was made up of trade unions, socialist organisations and co-operative societies; but at the Annual Conference of 1918 the constitution of the party was amended to allow individuals to join the party and since it has been observed that individual membership gives the party as a whole an élan vital which contributes a good deal to electoral success.

The party today has a total membership of 6,483,994; affiliated membership representing 87 trade unions and 5 socialist and co-operative societies accounts for 5,640,638 and the total membership of the 667 constituency and central parties amounts to 843,356 of which 354,669 are women.

To be able to locate the individual member and the role it plays in the party, let us dissect a Constituency Labour Party which generally covers a parliamentary constituency. A constituency party consists of a general committee, which is in fact responsible to the National Executive of the Party, and an executive committee elected from the general committee; the general committee is composed of member-delegates sent to it by the socialist organisations, co-operative societies, professional societies, women’s sections, trade union branches, leagues of youth, trades councils and ward associations which function within the parliamentary constituency.

It is in the ward association that the individual member enters the party; every ward association elects a ward committee which looks after the affairs of the ward and needless to add that each parliamentary constituency is divided into a large number of wards. Affiliated members are entitled to take part in ward activities provided they register themselves with the party constituency or the ward secretary. The individual member pays a monthly subscription of 6d while the affiliated member has nothing to pay to the ward association. (In fact his subscription is paid by his union to the political funds of which he contributes).

What is the role of the individual member in such a maelstrom of parties and committees? How does he influence the national or regional policy of the party? Whenever the need arises, the ward association meets to consider the grievances of its members and to formulate proposals which the members of the ward think would promote their interests or safeguard their rights. Any suggestion, provided it is adequately supported, is approved by the ward committee and then transmitted to the Constituency party which after consideration refers it to the National Executive for inclusion in the agenda for the annual conference. If a suggestion is of regional interest, it is referred to the Council Labour Group of the relevant borough or county council. Through this process the individual member exercises his right in moulding the national or regional policy of the party.

The most important feature of this setup is that the individual members of the party have a say in the nomination and selection of local government or parliamentary candidates. The British electors are not told, as we are in Mauritius, who is going to represent them but in fact they choose their prospective representatives.

This is a general picture of the constituency parties which together with the trade unions and the co-operative and other socialist parties constitute the British Labour Party which is governed by the National Executive Committee. The National Executive is elected by the Annual Conference which is the central policy-making body; it consists of twelve representatives of the trade unions, one from the co-operative and socialist bodies, seven from the constituency and central labour parties and five women members. The treasurer is elected by the affiliated organisations at the Annual Conference and the leader and deputy leader of the parliamentary group are ex-officio members.

The British Labour Party works systematically and on the national level it functions through a number of departments, each dealing with a special field. The Party Organisations Department is responsible for the co-ordination of the activities of the various constituency parties, training of agents and youth leaders, elections, selection of candidates and all other issues affecting the functions of the party as a whole. There is the women’s department, the International and Commonwealth Department, the Research Department, the Press and Publicity Department and the Finance Department. And what all these departments do is indeed beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that besides the publication of innumerable documents & pamphlets, the handling of over £200,000 last year the Party is running 301 youth sections; last year the Labour Women’s Advisory Councils held over 220 educational conferences.

It is quite obvious that in Mauritius we cannot build overnight political parties as large in scale and wide in scope as this but anybody with a modicum of common sense will concede that a start has to be made and if we genuinely want to foster the growth of democracy and make the most of our political advancement we must organise our political parties on a sound basis; in this task we can draw upon the vast experience of the pioneers of British party politics. The sooner we realise that gerrymandering is no substitute for healthy political parties the better.

4th Year – No 153  —  Friday 12 July 1957

* Published in print edition on 8 December 2020

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